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27 October 2013 @ 12:32 pm
Dangerous is the Vexed God (3a/?)  

Title: Dangerous is the Vexed God (3a/?)

Author: Maggiemerc

Rating: M

Spoilers: Veers from canon after the third episode of season 2.

Disclaimer: Of course I don’t own them. All the lady loving would be hella canon if I did.

Summary: Emma Swan just wants to adjust to life in a post-Curse Storybrooke. She wants to get to know her kid. Get to know her parents. And maybe learn how to use her magic. But the town has an epidemic of flying monkeys, there’s a drunk pirate walking down Main half-naked, Regina Mills keeps looking at her like she’s seen her naked,  and, oh yeah, someone’s killing off fairy godmothers.

Author’s Note: This chapter took longer than expected to get out. On the bright side it is extra long?

Warning: Graphic discussion of the slaughtering of animals. The queasy are warned.

Chapter Three, Part A

Emma didn't get home until late. Regina had sent David the gnome, a guy who’d apparently inspired a cartoon about a very different gnome, floating back up into the sky and she'd refused to bring him back down. "He'll come down on his own," she said before poofing away and avoiding responsibilities.

Mulan had helped Emma track the floating gnome around town, but she'd gotten bored after a while and said something about "patrol" before bailing. Leaving Emma driving at a snail's pace behind the guy and waiting for him to come down low enough that she could use a borrowed dog catcher's loupe to grab him. David the deputy and Aurora had both, suspiciously, not responded when she'd radio'd for back up. Like Mulan had gotten to them first and told them about Emma’s new impromptu mission.

After finally getting the guy back on solid ground he'd insisted he didn't want to press charges and the she had to insist that he didn't try and get revenge on his own instead. He’d promised, but her knack for seeing a lie wouldn’t let her believe him.

She'd stopped by Regina's to warn her an angry gnome would come looking for her, but found her gone and Hook, sans pants, sitting in her kitchen eating a sandwich.

"No toaster oven on the Jolly Roger," he'd explained.

That hadn't explained the pants situation, but Emma's had been too irritated to ask.

She didn't get around to talking to Gold until the sun was nearly set. Then, after he assured her he was innocent she had to walk all the way over to the library to get Belle to corroborate his alibi, which she'd only done while blushing.

Probably because she was corroborating while Ruby stood at the check out desk thumbing through Laura K Hamilton paperbacks and scowling. The only person who liked Belle and Gold's relationship less was Cora.

When she finally made it home it was to a too damned busy apartment that was too damned small for three grown adults and a kid about four steps from puberty. Mary Margaret was sitting at the counter, her cheek resting in her hand and her other hand listlessly swirling wine in a glass. Henry had his wooden sword out and was jabbing and hiyaing up and down the staircase to the loft and David was at the stove setting something in a pan on fire.

She missed her stylish little apartment in Boston. It had been lonely and austere, but kids weren’t clanging, ladies weren’t drinking and stuff wasn’t on fire.

It was quiet.

She missed quiet.

"What's with him?"

"Your father told him they're going to the stable tomorrow so he can learn how to ride a horse. He's practicing.”

“With a sword?”

“Knights have to ride horses and fight with swords,” Henry shouted.

The kid had been hounding anyone who looked like they'd even touched a sword to teach him about it. All of Emma's very tastefully edited stories of the Enchanted Forest had done little to cool the kid's desire for dangerous adventure in far off lands devoid of toilet paper.

Mary Margaret took a sip of her wine and eyed Emma over the glass. “You’re home late.”

“Remember that show David the Gnome?”

Her brow furrowed, “I remember the little guy who snitched on half the Enchanted Forest.”

Emma took off her jacket and launched it at the coat rack. It just barely made it, and the whole thing tipped into the wall before righting itself. “Probably the same one. Regina got mad and sent him floating over the city for four hours. Which someone would have known if they’d had their radio on.”

David didn’t turn around, but he sort of ducked while he busied himself putting out his fire and plating something blackened.

“Did you finally get him down,” Mary Margaret asked.

“With one of those dog catcher things. They say hi at the vet’s by the way.” She directed that comment towards David. His ears were pink.

“Did you find the murderer yet?” Henry had come down the stairs way too quietly and Emma leapt at his soft voice right behind her.

“Jesus!” Mary Margaret frowned. “I mean—nothing yet kid. Just a floating gnome and a helluva couple of alibis. Did you guys know every single nun was at Granny’s last night?”

All three long term Storybrooke residents were unimpressed.

“The hamburgers are great,” David said.

“And it’s really roomy there,” Mary Margaret added.

“Everyone loves Granny’s,” Henry insisted in an eerily toneless voice.

Sure. Granny’s was great, and cheaper than most fast food places. It was just…weird they all went but the dead one and her sisters. And weird that no one seemed surprised.

She settled into the stool beside Mary Margaret and took her half-done wine, finishing it off in two gulps. "So I'm the only one that finds it weird?"

All three of them shrugged. "The hamburgers are really great," Henry said—imitating his grandfather.

Emma chuckled and ruffled his hair, "I gotta get you out more."

Mary Margaret frowned again, "What's that supposed to mean?"

"It's just—" All three of them look like she'd insulted their dog or something. It struck her that out of the whole damn town she was probably the most well travelled (if you didn't count magical lands usually only found in books). "I once had a hamburger down in New Mexico so good I dreamed about it years later. Dreams because of a hamburger. And Granny's is good, but there's only about one thing there I dream about."

Henry tilted his head, "What?"

"Ru—rhubarb pie. Granny's rhubarb pie is top notch."

David and Henry agreed but Mary Margaret scowled like she knew that wasn't the pie Emma dreamt of. She reached past her for the wine bottle and refilled the glass.

Taking another big gulp of wine she looked over at Henry. The little guy had climbed up into the third stool and was thinking too deeply—doing that little grimace he must have learned from Regina.

"What's up," she asked.

"I should see more of the world."

David did something between a gasp and a snort and Mary Margaret tried to smile warmly like she was encouraging him but it just came off as frigid.

"Well," Emma tried not to look at the two of them, "We could go sometime. Where you thinking about?"

"China."

She was a big fan—though she didn’t think the kid knew she’d been there. “I was thinking something closer first. Maybe Boston?”

"I've already been to Boston."

“You went from the bus station to Emma’s,” Mary Margaret said. "You should see the entire city."

Emma wasn't going to point out that Mary Margaret had seen even less of Boston and wouldn't be going any time soon. Part of the curse still wrapped around the town, and anyone affected by it couldn't leave without losing their memories.

Sometimes when Mary Margaret or David were shooting her the maternal/paternal puppy dog eyes she thought about punting them over the city line just to have a break.

Knowing that Regina would approve and the rest of the town would be horrified was the only thing keeping her from doing it most nights.

"You could check out Harvard," David suggested. "That's in Boston right?"

"You sound like Regina—no we'll do the aquarium. Maybe catch some improv or something and then gorge on lobster rolls and oysters."

Mary Margaret tilted her head, her eyes placid and a little wounded, “You’re making it sound like something you’ll do this weekend or the next?”

Emma shrugged, "Why not? Nothing's stopping us." Besides the murder investigation. And everyone getting jealous of their road trips. And Regina. Emma was pretty sure taking a kid who wasn't technically legally her's across state lines without permission was illegal. "What do you say kid? Next month you and me and Boston for the weekend?"

"Overnight?" Henry's eyes bugged out.

"Why not? I've still got my apartment." That she needed to deal with. Sheriff's pay wasn't as lucrative as bail-bonds person pay and she was gonna have to get into her savings if she didn't get off her butt and find a subletter soon.

Mary Margaret, trying not to be Debbie Downer, but failing, asked, "What about Regina? If she finds out you're taking him—"

David set down plates in front of everyone. He'd cooked chicken breasts as big as his own hands on the skillet. He’d poured something that started life as Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom on top to hide the black bits. But Emma could still see a healthy stretch of char peaking through the sauce on hers.

Reaching for her fork she said, "I've got to go do an interview with her tomorrow. I'll just ask."

"She won't like that."

"I don't think she's gonna be mad about a weekend trip next month Mary Margaret. And if she's that worried she can tag along. Right kid?"

He grimaced like his grandmother and stabbed his chicken heartily. The rift that had formed after his mom had accidentally poisoned him hadn't been healed. Even though he'd brought her back to life and been by her bed almost every day of her coma.

Apparently it was a lot easier loving people when one of you was near death.

####

Henry and David were out the door the next morning while Emma was still wiping the sleep from her eyes and trying to crack her persistently uncrackable neck.

Mary Margaret was up too and wordlessly put a mug of coffee into Emma's hands when she slumped onto a stool in the kitchen.

"Long night?"

"Henry's a furnace and kicks in his sleep."

Mary Margaret winced in sympathy.

"He's pretty excited about the stable huh?"

"Seems that way. He's been begging your father to teach him since you and I were over There. This should be good for them. Bonding." Mary Margaret said it so hopefully.

"He wanted to ride a horse so bad why didn't he ask Regina?"

Mary Margaret wrapped both her hands around her own mug of coffee and brought it to her lips. "I don't know," she said between sips. "And I don't think David knows Regina can ride either."

"You never told him?"

"Never came up."

A lot of things never came up. As far as Emma could tell her "parents" were basically newlyweds. They'd been married less than a year when they had her and were still in that "love guides us through all problems" phase. Emma was familiar with that phase. Many an idiot new spouse had put up their life savings to bail someone out and then had to watch as the loved one ran and Emma had to hunt them down.

Mary Margaret and David struck her as slightly less naive (though that could have been because of her own dumb optimism). Yet a lot of stuff slipped in between the cracks. Neither of them actually talked to the other about Mary Margaret's missing heart.

Or Regina.

Or having Emma and Henry crowd their open floor plan loft and effectively ruin any chance of intimacy.

Which was another thing—

Emma had no plans to pry. Ever.

EVER.

But she was pretty sure they hadn't done…stuff since the curse had broken. Both of them were extra crabby whenever Hook's bird mentioned sex or Mulan and Aurora walked by with their arms touching.

After showering and seeing Mary Margaret off for the final day of set up before the clam bake Emma made her way across town to Regina's place.

Some homes had changed since the Curse. People didn't maintain their lawns or prune their plants or rake the leaves that were starting to fall.

Regina wasn't one of those people. She'd been in a coma for a week and stuck in the hospital for something like six more and she still had the greenest lawn and the best looking trees and bush—

And Emma's mind went there.

She shuddered and parked her cruiser on the street in front.  The door opened wide as she clomped up the steps, but instead of Regina in her neat little pants suit or pencil skirt it was Hook, wearing pants again, but his shirt open to the navel, his hair in sticking up in every direction and his hook gone. The ornate sleeve of his shirt was pulled over the end of the residual limb. He leaned against the door and tried to look rakish.

"Ms. Swan, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

She'd gotten really good at ignoring his come ons. She didn't even have to glare this time. "Where's Regina?"

"Out."

"And you're hear because?"

"Hey hot mama!"

A flurry of feathers that should be plucked and stuffed in a pillow case landed on Hook's shoulder. That god damned bird. It tilted its head and seemed to gaze at her. Like it was human.

She resisted the urge to draw her gun and shoot it off his shoulder.

"Well," Hook said, "Aren't you going to say hello?"

The bird nipped his ear and he grinned.

"No, but I might roast the thing for Thanksgiving if you're not careful. Where's Regina?"

He rubbed the bird's head, "Why is everyone always threatening to eat him? Were you lot not fed enough as children? Do you have no understanding of how tough and gamey parrot is?"

"Hook."

He chucked the bird under its beak with his knuckle. And talked to it like it was a baby, "I won't let them eat you."

"Hook!"

"You're short tempered," he observed.

"Sexually frustrated," the bird squawked.

"I swear to God, both of you—"

"Regina squeezed some orange juice before she left. Fancy a cup?" He didn't wait for her answer, just turned around and padded into the kitchen, his bare feet slapping loudly against the wood floor. His bird flew over Emma's head and out the door. Torn between wanting to chase it down and put it out of everyone's misery, and the need to find Regina so they could go talk to whoever the hell that gnome claimed lived on Gingerbread Lane Emma had to eventually settle on following Hook into the house and kicking the door shut behind her.

She noted the blankets pooled on the couch and the dirty boots and long coat lying on the floor.

“Late night,” she called ahead.

Hook was busy in the kitchen, using his one hand to pour juice and his other arm to hold the cup steady. Watching him she was reminded that the hook wasn’t a hand and he didn’t have magic to supplement the thing. In his undone shirt standing at the isle pouring juice he looked completely…average.

“Regina caught me eating all her good bread and prosciutto last night and forced me to help her make cider.” He pushed the glass of juice over with the end of his arm. She saw a peak of the scarred limb mostly hidden by his shirt sleeve. “Apparently I’m a greedy thief and I have an alcohol problem.”

“You’re giving pre-Curse Leroy a run for his money in one of those departments.”

“Not much else for a pirate to do in a town like this.”

“You could become a fisherman.”

“I’m one of the most infamous pirates to ever live. I do not fish.”

Emma tried the juice. It was tart and satisfyingly pulpy. Almost like biting into an orange. “Coast guard?”

“I hung up my white hat a long time ago and have no plans to put it back on.”

“I don’t know what to tell ya Hook. Unless you want to start stealing movies online there’s not a lot of pirating to do in Storybrooke. You’re gonna have to reevaluate your life I guess.”

He rolled his eyes, “God, you’re as bad as those three.” The  other Four Thieves. A name Emma was a 100% sure they’d given themselves to sound cool.

“Difference being they care what happens to you.”

He considered his orange juice and raised his shoulders a fraction in a half shrug. Emma could see the hint of a tattoo on his chest, masked by his shirt and swirls of chest hair. She wondered what kind of tattoo a real pirate out of a storybook had. Was it his dead girlfriend’s name? A picture of his ship?

He noticed her staring and raised an eyebrow, “See anything you like?”

“No,” she fired back without thinking. His amusement didn’t even waver. “Now where the hell’s Regina? We’re supposed to go talk to some cookie man or evil witch or something and I wanted to get it done sooner rather than later.”

“She had to run an errand. Told me to tell you to meet her at the stables.”

Emma’s heart thumped twice as fast briefly. “The…stables?”

He nodded and sipped his juice.

“Any reason—why—why the stables?”

“Maybe she wanted to take one of her hell beasts out for a ride. How should I know?”

“She didn’t say?”

“Oh yes, she went into avid detail because she and I discuss every minute detail of our lives and then braid each other’s hair.”

Emma finished the rest of her orange juice and pushed back from the counter. If she drove fast, with the sirens on, maybe she’d get to the stable before Regina, because if she got there afterwards she really didn’t want to see what would happen.

####

She didn’t beat Regina there. Instead she pulled in, gravel shooting out from beneath her tires and a billow of dust trailing her, just as Regina was getting out of her car.

The other woman crossed her arms and eyed Emma as she parked. “I don’t think the sheriff is supposed to speed that fast,” she remarked when Emma got out of her car.

“I had my sirens on most of the way.”

“That might make it worse.”

Regina was dressed a little more Enchanted Foresty than usual. Or maybe just horsewomany. She was wearing tight riding pants and knee high boots. Her blouse was one of her normal tailored mayor blouses, but the blazer was full on preppy horsewoman.

She was just missing the crop. Emma felt poor just looking at her.

“Why are we here,” she asked—hopefully deflecting the conversation from her speeding, or David’s truck at the other end of the parking lot.

“Gingerbread Lane is an old unpaved logging road and Gauvin and Hwin need to be taken out for a ride. I thought we might kill two birds with one stone.” She looked over Emma’s shoulder, her face impassive, “Why is Charming’s truck here?”

“He…”

She raised an eyebrow.

Emma sighed, “He’s teaching Henry how to ride a horse.”

Instead of being angry or sad Regina just snorted. “Charming? Really?”

“Henry’s been asking apparently.”

“Of course. Why ask his mother when there’s a former prince around?” She wasn’t actually expecting an answer from Emma, and said to herself, “Apparently I failed at teaching him about the dangers of assuming based on gender.”

“Pretty sure that’s just society failing.”

Regina huffed in a way that indicated that, no, Regina was the one that failed. It was endearing.

“So you’re not…planning on turning David into a toad or anything?”

Regina sighed, “Somehow I think Henry would be offended by me turning his grandfather into an amphibian. So I’ll just be resigned. For now.”

The qualifier didn’t completely ease Emma’s concern.

Regina walked back around to the trunk of her car and popped it open and Emma came closer to make sure she wasn’t pulling out a shotgun or something equally murderous.

She wasn’t.

“What’s with the saddle?”

“I had to go pick it up from Donkeyskin’s shop. I needed a new one.”

“You couldn’t just magic it?”

She eyed Emma before she reached in and pulled the saddle out, “Magic is no match for quality leather working. Besides,” she sniffed, “with the curse broken the town’s economy isn’t maintained by magic. She needed the work.”

That was true. The cannery was shuttered about a week after Emma “saved” the town.

Regina shoved the saddle into Emma’s chest and she had to scramble to grab it while Regina turned back around and started pulling other horse looking junk from the car.

“She know your dusted her dad?”

“That’s why she gave me a 15% discount on the tack.”

“How gracious.”

“She’s grateful, not stupid.” She paused, “Or as stupid. The curse apparently added a few points to her IQ." Emma faintly remembered a story about Bluebeard’s daughter disguising herself to get into Regina’s palace, and then traipsing around her room in full on royal gowns.

"Lucky her."

Regina piled all the other horse junk on top of the saddle and Emma grunted and tried not to drop anything, spreading her legs a little to improve her balance. "Why am I carrying this?"

"Because you are here.”

Emma glared.

"And because I need to speak with the stable manager. Take that down to Gauvin's stall would you?"

Emma could have fought her on it—particularly as she felt like a pack mule, but Regina was already headed towards the attached office and she would have had to jog to catch up with her and throw all the leather good at her.

It seemed rude.

She wrestled with all leather. Something—a bridle? Reins?—she had no clue—dropped and she caught it with the toe of her boot. She had to squat and grab the metal part of it with her pinky and then shuffle towards the stable.

As she picked up speed she got a better handle on all the junk and by the time she was stepping into the stables and looking down a long corridor of stalls she was no longer in danger of dropping Regina's crap.

The stables hadn't seen a whole lot of use during the Curse and even maintained by magic they were a little run down from thirty years of disuse. Tired looking. All the white paint was dirty and cracked and only half the stalls had animals in them.

A sign tacked to a cork board offered riding lessons on the cheap. It looked new enough to be put up post-Curse. Probably put up by some prince looking for some extra cash.

Hopefully not the prince she lived with.

Or maybe it was a knight?

She was pretty sure the Enchanted Forest had had knights.

David was leaning against the door of one of the stalls closest to the entrance. A travel mug of coffee was dangling from his finger and must have been the reason he looked as chipper as he did.

"Thought you had a meeting," he said, not taking his eye off the inside of the stall.

"Meeting moved to here."

She balance the saddle on the stall door and looked in. Henry was standing on a stool brushing an ugly paint horse's coat and trying not to look self conscious.

"What are you guys up to?”

David pointed his mug at Henry. "Teaching him how to ride."

Emma raised an eyebrow but didn't ask the obvious question: How brushing a horse taught the kid anything.

Henry looked up from his mind-numbingly boring work and a big grin split his face. “Mom!” He dropped his brush, hopped off the stool and ran up to the door. It was still weird to hear him call her that. Felt kind of like someone walking across her grave.

But she smiled back. It would be shitty not to. “Hey kid.”

His small hand reached up to touch the supple leather of the saddle’s seat. His eyes were wide, “Is this for me?”

“No idea. Regina just had me bring it in.”

His face brightened further, “My mom’s here?” It was a lot different then when Emma had first shown up in town and he’d scowled at every mention of Regina. Since she was now the cool bad ass witch who defeated evil with giant rubble monsters he was thawing. The hurt hadn’t been erased. Just…eased.

“She’s talking to the stable manager. We’ve got to go talk to someone about that murder and she thought we should ride out there.”

“She’s not just poofing you,” David asked.

“Guess not.”

“Does my mom even know how to ride a horse?”

“Of course I do, and I probably know more about it then your grandfather.” Regina had arrived with the stubby stable manager in tow. Her lips were curled up into a half snarl that had Emma, David and Henry all wilting. She nodded at the stable manager, and the little round woman waddled quickly down the corridor with another saddle grasped in her meaty hands.

Then Regina irritation seemed to reverse course. Her sneer softened into something uneasy but kind. “I used to ride quite often once upon a time.”

“Why’d you stop,” Henry asked.

“Queens don’t go riding bareback through the country side.”

“No instead they—“ Emma tapped David’s stomach with her elbow and he shut up.

Regina caught David’s retreat and Emma’s elbow. Her eyes sharply focused on the two of them even as the rest of her was directing a maternal smile at Henry. “If I’d known you wanted to learn I would have been happy to teach you.” There was no hint of chastisement in her voice, but a touch of the hurt that put crow’s feet at the corner of her eyes.

Henry missed it. “It’s okay. Gramps is teaching me.”

“Ah.” She frowned, her dark eyes taking in Henry, his tennis shoes, his brush, and the pristine looking horse. “How exactly?” The hurt dissolved into haughty judgement and she pegged David with an annoyed glare, “You know teaching horseback riding actually requires sitting astride a horse?”

“I’m teaching him to respect the horse first.”

“And I supposed you’d teach him to drive by having him wash your car?”

“Yes.”

Regina’d been gearing up for a lecture, but David’s terse response stopped her dead. She looked surprised—but not really mad. “Oh,” she nodded, “I guess that makes sense.”

Emma was grateful she hadn’t had David teaching her how to drive as a kid. She preferred stealing cars to gently washing them with a giant sponge. And he definitely would have been the dad having her use shammies and doing two coats of wax.

“Perhaps when your grandfather is done teaching you the absolute basics we could go for a ride together?”

“Sure,” Henry said—a little wary. Was it always gonna be like that between him and his adoptive mom? Would she be asking him to come by for Christmas and he’d look nervous before agreeing?

It had to suck knowing your kid didn’t trust you. Even if Regina didn’t seem offended by his tentativeness.

She was just smiling again. That warm and totally genuine one that made something in the pit of Emma fidget. “And maybe, if you stick with it, we could see about having a saddle made for you?”

“We don’t want to spoil him,” Emma murmured.

“A good saddle isn’t spoiling him. It’s making sure we have grandchildren one day.”

Emma had never seen her kid really blush or seen Regina sound quite like a mom until that moment. Henry’s face turned bright red and the mortification a kid could only achieve because of their parents being jerks blossomed on his face.

David coughed and ducked his head, his fist over his mouth to hide an amused little grin.

“Mom,” Henry gasped.

“Oh don’t be embarrassed. You’re with family here, and it’s something you do need to think of if you’re going to be riding regularly. Sterility in male riders is very real.”

Emma had heard something similar, but, “I thought that was just because of the jeans cowboys wear?”

“It also has to do with how a man rides and what kind of saddle he’s on.”

David nodded, “She has a point.”

“And you should probably ignore it,” Regina glanced at David, “or Henry will wind up with a very young aunt or uncle.”

Emma clapped her hands, “And we’re done with this conversation!” David and Henry were matching shades of red. She pulled all the saddle toward her with one hand and dragged Regina away by the bicep with the other. “We are now going to leave you to forget this conversation ever happened.”

Henry and David both glowed with the kind of gratitude that made Emma actually feel like the “Savior” she was always told she was.

####

The woman’s horsemanship had not improved.

Regina should have expected that. Almost three years for her had only been the span of an afternoon for Emma. She hadn’t had a chance to get lessons, or even just sit on a horse.

So she sat very rigidly on Hwin, her legs sticking out to stay clear of the mare’s flanks and the two ends of the reins clutched in one hand so she could cling to the horn of the saddle with the other. It was a very plain western saddle meant for long days spent horseback and working cattle—but it was significantly more forgiving to a rider than the lean and sparse saddle Regina had designed. It was also too big and Emma kept scooting back and forth to find a way to balance herself.

“Relax,” Regina called in a soothing tone. “You’re not gonna fall off.”

“Easy for you to say queen who mounts the world.”

She whipped her head around, “What?”

Emma tried to wave her off, slipped and grabbed the horn again. “Nothing. TV show humor. Get HBO.”

“Do I look like I’m made of money?”

Emma’s plaintive stare suggested that she did.

Tugging on her own reigns, Regina slowed down so she could ride beside Emma. The old logging road was had grown narrow from years of disuse, with gnarled branches of trees reached out to grab at their clothes, but it was still just wide enough for them to ride side by side. Sometimes they had to ride so close Regina’s knee would brush against Emma’s.

It was nice—until Emma would slow down or speed up to end the contact.

This time Regina reached out and put her hand on top of Emma’s. She ignored the daggers shot her way. Emma wasn’t a big toucher.

She couldn’t feel the warmth of Emma through her thin doeskin gloves, just the hard tendons in her hand as she continued to hold onto the saddle horn. “It isn’t easy to fall out of that saddle Emma, and Hwin isn’t going to buck or bolt.”

“No, she’s going to walk. Or trot. Or canter.”

“If you’re that nervous you can sit behind me. I’m better than you just holding that horn like a newborn.”

More daggers. Flirting with Emma Swan was something new—an experiment suggested by Aurora—and the subject of the experiment was not fond of it. “I’m fine on my own horse,” Emma said dryly.

“Well, then relax. My back is hurting just watching you.”

She did relax, just a little, and Regina let go, her fingers immediately missing the contact. She balled her hand into a fist and her gloves squeaked softly.

“I still don’t see why you couldn’t just poof us,” Emma grumbled.

“The horses needed a stretch.”

“Which they could have had not while we’re on police business. Magic would have been faster.”

“You could have used your sirens to get to the convent faster yesterday, but you didn’t. Why?”

“It’s an abuse of power.”

Regina stared.

“—What? Really?”

She raised her chin, enjoying Emma’s surprise. “Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.”

“This coming from the walking id.”

“I told you Emma, I’ve changed.”

Emma ignored her, even as the faintest of blushes colored her cheeks, “So who we talking to today? I’m assuming some kind of former cookie?”

“No.”

“Loaf of bread?”

“What—why would you even—no, a woman.”

Emma groaned, “In a gingerbread house?”

“The very same.”

“But I thought the mechanic’s kids killed her.”

“They burned her alive, which, as you well know, isn’t always enough to kill a witch.”

“What, she eat a peach like your mom?”

“No. She healed herself even as she burned.”